CATIC cover up?
UNP alleges serious misappropriation in second 10-acre Galle Face Land deal; Says agreements have not been carried out with only US$ 54 million paid of US$ 136 million total hence deal invalid; Wants Government to reveal details of transaction; Says suspicious company handling deal, wants company financials divulged
By Uditha Jayasinghe
Setting the stage for more transparency issues, the UNP yesterday charged that the Government was trying to hide serious financial misappropriation in the 10 acres of Galle Face land sold to China Aviation Technology Import Export Corporation (CATIC).
UNP MP Dr. Harsha de Silva told media that the CATIC transaction contained several serious problems and that the Government was trying to hide them behind the Shangri-La deal.
After several appeals, the Government released information regarding the Shangri-La transaction and noted that the adjoining 10 acres had been sold to CATIC, but according to Dr. de Silva all is not right with the deal.
“The Government has declared all details regarding the Shangri-La deal but it has not done so concerning the CATIC land sale,” he said, using a painting of Galle Face to pinpoint to the media exactly where the disputed land lies.
“The land we are talking about is 20 acres between the former Prime Minister S.W.R.D Bandarnaike’s statue and Taj Samudra Hotel,” he explained, adding that there were serious misappropriation charges regarding the CATIC transaction.
“Firstly, the statements made by some Government ministers is completely false,” he alleged, holding up an interview given by Deputy Education Minister Nirmala Kothalawala to Lankadeepa, where he states that the lands were given on extended leases and not sold outright. “It is clear that the land was sold to these two companies and yet they continue to make blatantly false statements.”
Presenting the Cabinet paper tabled by Economic Minister Basil Rajapaksa detailing the CATIC transaction as “identical” to the Shangri-La deal, he questioned the statements made by the Minister saying that land would be released step by step to investors after they paid up.
“But we can clearly see that CATIC has not paid the full amount. In the agreement signed between CATIC and the Finance Ministry on 18 February 2011, it says that an advance of US$ 50 million has to be paid as an advance and that the remainder of US$ 86 million must be paid before 21 April 2011. If the full payment is not made, then a bank guarantee given by CATIC can be cashed by absolute right by the Government. If the full payment is not made by 21 April, then the agreement becomes invalid.”
However, in documents tabled by Economic Deputy Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene before Parliament on 22 June 2011, only US$ 54.7 million had been deposited by 25 April 2011. Moreover, this money was paid by an organisation called Avic and not directly by CATIC.
“Since the full amount has not been paid on 21 April as stipulated in the agreement, this document is no longer valid. Therefore, how can the Government sell land on an agreement that is not legally valid?” he questioned.
To make matters worse, the company called Avic that paid the money has several Chinese directors. Only one Sri Lankan director was appointed on 15 June.
There are no details as to the financial validity of this company and according to the documents, Avic International Hotel Lanka Ltd. is jointly held by Avic Engineering and another company called Nice View.
The former is said to hold 8,500 shares and the latter 1,500. In both instances there are no records of financial details or stakeholders of these entities, Dr. de Silva stressed.
“The Government must take immediate steps to clarify and present these details to the public and Parliament,” he emphasised, adding that if the money had been paid then the amounts and when and where they are being kept must be revealed.